G'day fellow Gooners,
With the team just starting to tune themselves up for the forthcoming campaign, with today's match, I thought I'd be best warming up for the return of the Gooners Diary in a couple of weeks. Although unlike the brief run out for vast majority of the Gunners, I guess the following marathon effort must constitute the equivalent of a full ninety minutes :-)
I can’t ever recall the customary Underhill curtain-raiser not selling out and so I was a little surprised to see tickets showing as still being available, when I glanced at the AFC web site last night. Perhaps this is a sign of the parlous economic climes (or even a taste of things to come?).
But, after an arduous week, where I was dead envious of my affluent pal’s ability to spunk up five hundred quid on a ticket to Thursday’s first day of the Lords’ test match (while I spent the day sitting in traffic at the wheel of a van, cursing the lousy reception of Test Match Special on Radio 4 LW, with the feint signal on 720 MW the only option on an FM/AM radio), the fact that our first friendly of the season wasn’t the usual sell out, meant that I was left contemplating whether I should forsake an eagerly anticipated afternoon spent with my feet up on the couch enjoying the coverage of the cricket, to schlep up to North London, in the hope of being able to queue up and pay-in at the turnstiles.
It’s been a few years since I missed this annual encounter on the infamous Underhill incline (you can’t really appreciate the bizarre gradient of Barnet’s pitch unless you’ve actually been there!). However as it turned out, my mind was made up for me, when I realised I had an unmissable appointment at 2pm and after dawdling in a nearby deli, so as not to come home empty-handed, without some tasty morsel to appease the missus, prior to deserting her for an afternoon of sporting indulgence, it wasn’t until I parked up that I realised to my horror it was already half-past three.
As a result I ended up missing most of the first-half, by the time I settled down on the sofa, with the cricket on the TV, the radio tuned to Test Match Special and I’d fiddled around on the computer to get the live pictures of the match on my laptop. All I needed was an additional set of eyes and ears, to achieve the armchair sport’s fans equivalent of nirvana.
Personally I think it’s a bit of a rip off (or at least that was until Setanta went belly up) that we had to pay for Arsenal TV as part of the Setanta package and then another subscription fee for the online version, especially since the Arsenal TV web site is one of the few remaining sites which doesn’t function properly on the Apple Mac. The Quicktime plug-in works well enough, but no matter how one adjusts the settings, it always frustrates the hell out of me that I can’t get the full-screen option to function. It’s fine for watching interviews, but trying to watch an entire match in a small window is a waste of time.
So initially I found myself having to choose, between watching a decent quality picture on a far too small, four inch window, or a lousy quality picture but in “full screen mode” from a feed of Arsenal TV on some Iraqui web site. Considering my 12 quid direct debit to Setanta went out of my account on 20th June, a few days before their demise, it feels a bit of a chutzpah that the four pre-season friendlies are restricted to AFC online and aren’t being broadcast on the Arsenal channel on the box.
Although I initially baulked at the idea of having to pay further satellite TV subscriptions in order to watch the Gunners when Setanta arrived on the scene and the Irish firm have always come across as a bit of a cowboy outfit, I guess in retrospect I guess you’ve got to admire the folly of them trying to take on Sky and Murdoch’s aspirations for world domination with his global media monopoly.
Despite the dodgy quality of the full screen pictures on the Iraqgoals TV feed, I was nevertheless fortunate to have it up and running just in time to enjoy the sight of Shava opening his account with the first goal of the game. Jack Wilshere played in Sanchez Watt down the left flank and with Watt’s perceptive awareness of Arshavin dragging his marker in one direction, before jinking towards the near post and leaving himself completely free, the youngster put the ball on a plate for the diminutive Gooner to effect an easy tap in.
I guess the Gunners are obliged to provide a reasonable turn out of star turns, to ensure that the occasion remains a cash cow reward, I assume, for our continued use of Barnet’s facilities for reserve games. But with Champions League qualification dependent on a play-off that’s only a month away, it was good to see that the likes of Almunia, Gallas, Djourou and Arshavin getting some pitch time in.
However aside from the habitual opportunity afforded by such friendlies to check out the progress of the youngsters who appeared in the starting line-up, like Wilshere, Frimpong, Watt and Randall (albeit that Mark Randall will be 20 in September and needs to make the step up sharpish, lest his “promising prodigy” status, turns into more of a Stephen Hughes type nearly man), the most noteworthy aspect to this afternoon’s encounter was to actually see evidence with one’s own eyes of Tomas Rosicky getting 45 minutes of competitive football under his belt (when there was a time not so long ago, when many wondered if Tommy would ever kick a ball in anger again) and the opportunity to see what our new centre-half is made of.
Sadly from this evidence it hardly seems as if the introduction of Thomas Vermaelen is going to prove the instant panacea to our defensive problems that we might have all hoped for. Instead of which we witnessed a demonstration that old habits do indeed die hard, as the Gunners made the mistake of presuming they would be going in at the break a goal to the good, as the last action of the first-half resulted in a fairly typical corner-kick, where they all switched off, thereby allowing Yakubu to rise, unchallenged and head home the equalizer.
Having seen far too much evidence of the TV pictures failure to tell the whole story, I’m not a massive fan of trial by TV. Yet the focus of the cameras suggested that Gallas was most culpable, for failing to track his man and allowing the home side a free header. However, in my most humble opinion, if Gallas was guilty of anything, as our most experienced defender, it was the Gunners habitual lack of communication amongst one another at set pieces, whereby someone needs to take responsibility for opening their gob, to ensure everyone is patently aware of where they are supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing – I was going to say “who they’re supposed to be marking” but knowing me and my overly loquacious tendencies, we’re likely to be here all night as it is, even before I get drawn into yet another exasperating tirade on the advantages of man marking over zonal defending!
I’d love to be able to report on the likes of Manny Frimpong and the Ghanaian’s ever-increasing resemblance to his countryman, Michael Essien, in his all-action approach. But the goals in the last couple of minutes apart, I can’t really comment on the rest of the half because I didn’t see it.
Half-time resulted in the inevitable rash of substitutions, as all our experienced stars were replaced by the young pretenders and the likes of Wilshere, Frimpong and Randall, gave way to Emmanuel-Thomas, Coquelin and Simpson. Of the starting XI, only Vermaelen remained on for the entire ninety.
It’s invariably the same story in our annual outing at Underhill, as while the journeyman likes of Gary Breen and 40-year old striker Paul Furlong feel like they’ve something to prove, playing against our more established stars, the arrival of an entire team full of kids on the pitch always seems to sap any remaining intensity and tempo out of the game and a competitive contest turns into a far more casual kickabout.
While many of his teammates had been afforded an opportunity to impress during last season’s peerless FA Youth Cup campaign, after his spell out on loan at Derby, Dutch forward, Nacer Barazite appeared most eager to catch Arsène’s eye and perhaps book his place on the imminent annual trip to Austria. And catch the eye he did, in a busy six minute spell at the start of the second half which culminated in him demonstrating his finishing prowess, as he curled the ball into the top right-hand corner for the Gunners to regain the lead.
I have to admit that I was surprised to discover that this is the third season in succession that Nacer has notched in this fixture, as I didn’t think he’d been around that long. With Barnet playing up the slope second-half, I was hoping the young Guns would take advantage, tiring out the opposition with the sort of slick, one-touch passing that has become our trademark and which might have the home side chasing shadows but sadly this encounter drifted aimlessly towards and unsatisfactory conclusion, as eight minutes before the final whistle Barnet pegged us back again.
I’d like to see a replay of the second equalizer before pointing the finger of blame, but I suspect that both Mannone and Vermaelen were guilty of being caught on their heels, losing focus as the game petered out. I suppose the new boy is still some way from full match fitness and as the only one to play ninety minutes, perhaps he had some excuse. Nevertheless, as his first appearance in the red & white, I would’ve hoped Vermaelen might never have been more pumped up, anxious to win over the Arsenal fans and to demonstrate that Wenger has unearthed a definite winner. Yet I’d be hard pressed to give Thomas the thumbs up on the evidence of this display (or at least what I saw of this display!), as bearing in mind this was only Barnet, unfortunately Thomas hardly proved himself to be the Arsenal’s answer to Man U’s Nemanja Vidic this afternoon!
Meanwhile, for all those of you who’ve been waking up on the sticky patch, after tantalising dreams of giving the likes of Man U, Chelsea and Spurs a serious Gooner going over, with the talent that might be added to the squad when we spunk up the proceeds of the sale of Adebayor, I’m not even sure such fantasies are worth a semi, since sadly the word on the grapevine is that le Gaffer has no intentions of blowing big bucks on anyone!
This will leave us with Nicky Bendtner as just about our only seriously viable option in the lone striker’s role, if as seems likely, Arsène continues to favour playing 4-5-1. Doubtless le Prof’s answer to any such speculation would be to run off a list of Van Persie, Eduardo, Walcott etc as alternative striking options. But even if he has no plans to replace Adebayor, I suspect it will be the source of some serious unrest amongst the Gooner masses, if he doesn’t end up diverting any of the millions we might receive, by dispensing with the disruptive services of the Togonator, on strengthening the squad elsewhere.
Should we get off to a good start, everything will be hunky dory, but a couple of bad results and Wenger’s supposed faith in his development project will come in for some serious flak.
At the shareholder’s Q & A Arsène deflected questions about the captaincy by assuring us that we have a team of captains. However he later admitted “who wouldn’t want a Puyol type leader in their side”. Watching Gilberto perform for Brazil during the summer, I was reminded that all the best sides are a blend of both youth and experience, but it seems evident that we’re always going to struggle to retain a crucial thread of experience, so long as we continue to restrict ourselves to only offering the over 30s one year deals, instead of the security of the sort of four year contracts that they can find elsewhere.
Having been forged in the American “customer is always right” school of commerce, Ivan Gazides obviously has the tools to talks a good game but having talked the talk, I guess we are about to discover if he’s capable of walking the walk in the current parlous economic climate, as the club sweats it out, sitting atop untold amounts of unrealised equity in all those empty properties.
Myself I remain unconvinced that Wenger has embarked on some sort of blinkered “sh*t or bust” project to force the Premiership to bend to his purist will, as some in the media might have us believe. You only have to read some of the latest blog reports about the state of the club’s finances eg. Robert Peston's "Has Arsenal Borrowed Too Much" to begin to appreciate that it is far more likely that le gaffer’s course of action is dictated by necessity, rather than by design and by his selfless capacity to act in the long term interest of the club, when other managers in his shoes would merely be motivated by the self-aggrandising interest of short-term success.
I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that I would be a whole lot happier if the club were to relieve Arsène of the entire burden of responsibility, by being a little more honest and telling all of us genuine supporters of the club how it really is, instead of continuing to inflate our expectations every season, to the point where we expect everything and end up seriously deflated when we end up with nothing.
If those at the helm turned around and admitted that there is, for example, a five year plan in place, where we have to tread water and try to hold our own, until such time as we begin to realise the advantages of the increased revenue from our new stadium on the pitch, I could cope with that. This sort of reaility and honesty would be a whole lot easier to handle than the sort of mushroom treatment, where we’re kept in the dark and fed a constant line of bullsh*t, setting us up for the disappointment every season of discovering that we still haven’t reached the Promised Land.
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Sunday, July 19, 2009
G'day fellow Gooners,